Hundreds of AARP members and volunteers headed to Washington, D.C. on October 12 to tell their Congressional representatives: “Seniors aren’t numbers. We aren’t line items in a budget. And we’re definitely not pushovers.”
Thousands more have been making phone calls into their representatives offices to reiterate the message that cuts to Medicare and Social Security should be off the table as the 12-member congressional “supercommittee” considers ways to reduce the national deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Seniors are understandably upset because many of the proposals being considered behind closed doors would shift health care costs onto us, threaten our access to doctors, or reduce the Social Security benefits we rely on to pay our bills. For example:
Cutting Social Security by $112 billion, which could cost seniors thousands of dollars over their lifetime.
Raising the Medicare eligibility age, which would:
—Cut benefits for younger retirees
—Increase out-of-pocket spending for 65 and 66-year-olds by an average of $2,000 per year – when many are already struggling to make ends meet.
—Increase premiums for people already on Medicare because it would leave older, more costly people in the system.
—Increase health care costs for businesses because workers would stay on employer plans longer.
If Congress is really concerned about numbers, they should consider that more than 562,000 Connecticut residents rely on Medicare and more than 611,000 rely on Social Security to help pay bills each month. Those are the numbers of people who could be harmed if Congress makes these cuts.
Contrary to what many people may think, Medicare is not free for seniors. According to recent national data, Medicare beneficiaries already spend a median of $3,103 a year of their own money on health care. Ten percent of beneficiaries—more than 4 million people—spend more than $8,300 a year. The oldest and poorest beneficiaries already spend about one-quarter of their incomes on health care.
Since August, AARP has heard from millions of our members, including many right here in Connecticut, who have shared their stories with us about the impact that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would have on them personally. Many are afraid of losing their homes if they could no longer afford their rent or mortgage, while others would have to make dangerous choices between putting food on the table and paying for prescription medications. Like millions of seniors living on fixed incomes, these folks are already finding it hard to make ends meet in today’s economy. In Connecticut, nearly 33 percent of seniors over age 65 are kept out of poverty because of Social Security. About 49 percent of Connecticut residents over the age of 65 rely on Social Security for at least half of their monthly income, while 17 percent rely on it for 90 percent or more of their income. For them, and millions more like them across the country, any further reduction in benefits – benefits that they’ve worked for their entire lives – would be devastating.
It may also come as a surprise to some that seniors are united in their message to Congress. According to AARP surveys, it makes no difference if someone is a Republican, Democrat or Independent, they all think it’s wrong for the supercommittee to cut the benefits they’ve worked for and depend on.
As the supercommittee’s deadline nears, it’s clear they have many choices to make. One of the priorities should be to hold harmless the millions of seniors who have worked our entire lives to earn our Medicare and Social Security benefits. Seniors aren’t pushovers, we understand the stakes for ourselves and for the country and we vote. Overwhelmingly we want to see Congress cut government waste and close overly generous tax loopholes, not cut our hard-earned benefits. Seniors are making our voices heard loud and clear. Will Congress listen?
Laura J. Green is state president of AARP.